The Many Stages of Suck

Brilliant article I’ve had in my files for a while… Boy, does it help to see this again!  Here’s an excerpt from http://www.passionatepen.com/stages_article.htm:

“I think a lot of new authors get really overwhelmed when they read published books because they can’t ‘write like that’. When they read the chapter or book they just finished by their favorite author, they cringe and immediately let self-doubt overtake them.

But the thing about writing is that it’s a lot like actors and actresses. Ever seen a really beautiful actress or supermodel without her makeup? Sure, lots are still stunning… but for many, it’s a sight to behold. Pimples. Bags. Wrinkles. It takes makeup and lighting for them to shine. But you’d never know that just from looking at the spread in Glamour Magazine.

The same goes for writing. There are very few authors who are able to sit down and churn out a 100,000-word romance and have the first draft be perfect. There are some, yes, but most of us go through some kind of process that gets us there. Whether they edit as they go along, or at the end. Whether they write in order or in scenes and sequels in no particular way, they have a lot of stages that get them to the keeper shelf.

So in the spirit of full disclosure, I present to you, the stages of writing… Jenna Petersen/Jess Michaels Style. Perhaps you’ll see some of your own stages of writing here:

Stage 1: Oh My GAWD, I have the best idea EVER!!
.
.
Stage 6: Oh My GAWD, I’m writing the worst book EVER!”

Here’s the article in its entirety:

Very soon now you will be able to find my first single title historical romance out on the shelves (Scandalous from Avon in October 2005 as Jenna Petersen in case this is your first time here or I haven’t pounded that into your head enough yet. LOL). And I’m sure you will be captivated by its beautiful prose and immediately put it on your keeper shelf (um, we all have to have dreams, okay!). But as you read the finished product, I hope you’ll know that this is not how this or any book started. I think a lot of new authors get really overwhelmed when they read published books because they can’t ‘write like that’. When they read the chapter or book they just finished by their favorite author, they cringe and immediately let self-doubt overtake them.

But the thing about writing is that it’s a lot like actors and actresses. Ever seen a really beautiful actress or supermodel without her makeup? Sure, lots are still stunning… but for many, it’s a sight to behold. Pimples. Bags. Wrinkles. It takes makeup and lighting for them to shine. But you’d never know that just from looking at the spread in Glamour Magazine.

The same goes for writing. There are very few authors who are able to sit down and churn out a 100,000-word romance and have the first draft be perfect. There are some, yes, but most of us go through some kind of process that gets us there. Whether they edit as they go along, or at the end. Whether they write in order or in scenes and sequels in no particular way, they have a lot of stages that get them to the keeper shelf.

So in the spirit of full disclosure, I present to you, the stages of writing… Jenna Petersen/Jess Michaels Style. Perhaps you’ll see some of your own stages of writing here:

Stage 1: Oh My GAWD, I have the best idea EVER!!
Normally I get to this stage right at the back end of whatever book I’m currently finishing. I think it’s my mind’s way of moving on after being so invested in the WIP. It gives me new and better ideas so that I’ll be excited to work on the Next Big Thing. Anyway, the ideas are always gems aren’t they? When you get them, you think about how wonderful they are and how this idea will be the one that sells or wins you the RITA or whatever your current dream is. And you scribble it down (normally on a napkin of some other wonderful scrap sheet) and clutch it to your breast. You can’t wait to start working on it because you know it’s fantabulous!

Stage 2: Growing a plot, meeting my characters and fluffing my scenes.
Once the glow of the fantastic idea has worn off, it turns out you kinda have to work. This is the first ‘tough’ stage for me because I have to turn a one or two line idea into enough information for a 90,000 – 100,000 word manuscript. There’s a lot of stuff you have to do to get there. At least if you’re a plotter. I mean, you have to meet your characters and learn their motivations and the potential internal conflicts that will separate them. After I know them pretty well, I dive into plot with the internal conflicts in mind and add the externals. Then I write a synopsis and fairly detailed scene sketches for at least one-third of the book. By that time, the initial thrill has worn off and I’m pretty clear or not about whether that one line idea will really work for a book.

Stage 3: I’ve got to write! Let me write!
By the time I’m sitting in the living room with my lap desk (also known as a lamb-y desk… but don’t ask why, the story is too long) writing out scene sketches, I’m chomping at the bit to write. It’s usually been a couple months since I finished my last book, did revisions, turned it in, etc and started to plot a new book, so my hands are itching to touch a keyboard. I do my best to sketch as much of the book as I can based on my synopsis outline but at some point I almost always have to be FREE! I can’t hold back any longer and I sit down in front of a terrifying blank document and a blinking cursor… and I GO.

Stage 4: The Golden Pages
The nice thing about trapping that little muse for so long, though, is that when I release it, it goes WILD. When I can sit down at my computer and write only to look up and realize two hours and eight pages have gone by… that’s pretty cool. Those are Golden Pages. Pages that flow. And normally, the pages that flow are pages that I end up keeping when it’s all said and done. For whatever reason the words and my brain and my keyboard connected and life is beautiful for that all-too-brief period.

Stage 5: Umm, I forgot about this part
And then… the gold stops. I mean, I hit pockets of it. Little gold rushes at a time where it’s all easy and pretty and flows. But about this time, it starts to be harder. Sometimes I have to force myself to sit at that damn computer all day before I reach my page goal for the day. And I check my email more. I find little busy jobs that have to be done (these are days I pray for the new RT so I can use the excuse of entering in the next month’s Historical releases and make their links). I’m not panicking yet, but I’m definitely feeling the work involved.

Stage 6: Oh My GAWD, I’m writing the worst book EVER!
Welcome to panic. At this point in the process, I am sure the book sucks. I am sure I’m repeating myself over and over and banging the internal conflicts to death with a ladle. My heroine is too stupid to live. My hero is a weanie. I will never finish and if I do, it will be a miracle if anyone ever wants to read this tripe. This is the point where I’m certain I have to go back and fix the crap I’ve written. But I’m a ‘head down’ writer (Jennifer Crusie called it that years go and it’s a wonderful phrase that describes it perfectly). Essentially that means I don’t revise as I write. If I re-read sections, it’s only get myself in gear to write in the morning. I don’t correct as I go, I just go. I know I will fix it once I’m done.

This means that when I’m sure I’m writing the worst book ever, I have to ignore that voice and just move to the next sentence, the next word or even the next letter if it comes down to it. I pray for a few golden pages to make me feel better and I look for the light at the end of the tunnel that signals the end is near.

Stage 7: Well, thank goodness that’s over. I will clearly never work in this town again.
And then… it’s over. I write the final sentence and write THE END (which will be removed later, but I don’t care, I write it anyway because it makes me happy). A glow washes over me because I just did the thing I never knew I could do in 1999 when I started seriously pursuing this career. Finish a book and another and another and another. But the doubt is still alive and well. I pretty much always close that completed document absolutely sure that this book is the worst thing I’ve ever written and that if I present it to my agent or editor that it will send them running into the street screaming and cursing the day they ever agreed to represent and/or publish me.

Luckily, this stage is generally followed by stage 7A. A break. I catch up on email. I update websites. I read books that got neglected while I wrote. This down time helps me get refocused so that when I start to revise, I’ll do it with a clean slate. It depends on how I feel about the book and how soon someone wants it, but I try (TRY) to take at least a month between finishing the book and revising the book. Sometimes that doesn’t happen though. Sometimes I get curious and start revising after a couple of weeks.

Stage 8: Huh… this ain’t bad.
And then the day comes where I take the manuscript that I have printed out and read it. You know what? I rarely hate it as much as I think I did when I finished. I find parts I really like, which is wonderful. And I find places where I could improve. But on the whole, I realize it’s not the worst thing that was ever written and I probably won’t scar anyone for life once I submit the piece.

Stage 9: Nails, hair and lack thereof.
The final stage and in some ways the scariest. I finish revision, I get whatever feedback I’ve asked for from critique partners or my literary agent… and then I send it on. And wait. And hope. Oh yeah… and start the process over again with a new book.

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3 thoughts on “The Many Stages of Suck

  • actually I find I am seldom overwhelmed or intimidated by modern writers or poets. I can honestly say there have only been three in the last 9 years that have inspired me or had an influence on my style. I have always like to read mostly classic works and build upon archaic styles. That if possible bring that sense of eloquence into this century. I find it odd how so many ppl attempt to write form poetry without respect for its origins. Very few “modern” writers attempt or can write archaic languages. It has always been my goal to write it correctly and I only know a handful of people who could even grade me on mine. Interesting article. One should not fear their own expressions. It’s rather like walking on water, all you have to do is believe in yourself.

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    • Charles, you are a purist my friend… whereas most of us (I daresay) write by the seat of our pants. We fling our words against the wall and hope something sticks. I bow to your wisdom and hope some of it rubs off; as I’ve said before, I’m really just a hack in writer’s clothing…. 🙂

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